“Boyhood.” The movie that’s been talked about since the trailer appeared just this last year. This coming of age story that took 12 years to make, and used the same actors year after year. Sounds simple right? It is. It’s an incredibly simple story line and that’s why it works so well. We don’t only watch Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, grow up and out of adolescence, we also watch the rest of the family grow up, and witness the changing dynamics that occur throughout each year. It’s incredibly relatable, and engages us more than other coming of age, life stories. Richard Linklater, the director, is able to do this through its gradual process (the cast and crew got together for 15 days every year for 12 years until Coltrane’s character had graduated from high school and moved on to college), and representing memory more realistically instead of traditionally.
Sunday night, I had the pleasure of both viewing the movie as well as participating (as a spectator of course) in a Q&A with Linklater, Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, and Patricia Arquette. One of the questions that particularly stuck out was, “How would this movie have played out had it been filmed over the course of two years instead of 12?” Of course one of the answers was that they would have had to use more makeup to make the parents look older, and different kids to show the different ages. But the panel left out the obvious, and talked about how different they would have played their characters had they finished filming in the early 2000s. A lot of the film came from their experiences as parents, their memories from childhood and growing up. Had the film not allowed them to also have grown up as parents and the people they currently are today, they wouldn’t have been able to fully grasp what it meant to be a parent during critical, adolescent moments. Hawke, who plays the father, even said that had they filmed the high school graduation party scene 10 years ago, he would have played it completely differently because his parenting skills had been so limited previously.
They also discussed their ideas of childhood memory throughout the years of this film. Linklater focused on the scene where Mason and his friend drink from a flask on the way home from graduation, and admits that that was what he remembered from his graduation. Arquette agreed and added that this movie differs from other coming of age stories in that it looks at memory with an understanding that sometimes your first kiss is dull (I can’t remember mine). And so many movies focus on these “defining,” traditional moments that have been overplayed, which is what is so engaging about this film: It doesn’t look at traditional key moments of adolescence. It observes what we generally remember, which are odd bits of family trips, discussions between friends and family, everyday sorts of interactions that end up being important, which you don’t realize until years later.
There was also mention of the fact that Arquette’s character is a hard role to come by for women, Hawke referred to it as three-dimensional. Truthfully I hadn’t quite paid attention to her character as three-dimensional, not because I didn’t find her character to be incredibly important, but because it’s a character I’ve seen before in reality. Her story (a young, single, working mother of two, divorced twice, both alcoholics) is very much a realistic one. We understand why she gets upset with her kids, and why she marries these men who at first seem nice enough and then turn out to have more problems than she does. And we support her despite the fact that she’s not the chipper, home-baked cookies type of mom we’d all like to have. And it is a three-dimensional character because although she may come across as an antagonist, we never look at her as that, we’re looking at her with support and hope. This movie has allowed viewers to witness, without critique, the life of a single mother. Such a simple story to tell, and yet this is the first time it’s been done.
I want to touch back on the discussion of memory and the decision to not include traditional key moments such as ones first kiss, prom, first day of high school, etc. I found it incredibly interesting to hear that many of the discussions amongst the characters, or events that took place were based on discussions that Coltrane and Linklater had with one another. Linklater explained that he would call Coltrane up, as the two didn’t live far from one another, and Coltrane would simply talk about what was on his mind, or what he had been doing. And from there, certain things would be added to the film. Coltrane included that he actually had ranted to Linklater about Facebook and where his generation was going with social media, and Linklater concluded that that’s what Coltrane’s character would be talking about with his girlfriend on their way to visit a university campus. This sort of collaboration is a direct result of the amount of time given to the director and film crew to create a coming of age story that differs from anything filmed before.
And if all of this glory isn’t convincing enough, I urge you to go experience the gold that is the film’s soundtrack. It has The Hives, Blink 182, The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, and all that good stuff. Set some time aside, approximately 163 minutes aside, and check out this film that everyone is raving about.